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Lake Peysenske is southeast of Park Rapids, near Long Lake. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

A history of Lake Peysenske and Henrietta Township

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Enterprise
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Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

BY John Clauer

FOR THE ENTERPRISE

When you say you live on Lake Peysenske, most people look at you with a quizzical expression. Small in size with no public access and designated as an environmental lake, it has struggled to achieve real lake status in a county that contains numerous large lakes.

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Lake Peysenske also has one of the more unique names in Hubbard County. Much like the Township in which it resides (Henrietta) and like several other locations near the lake, it underwent a number of changes before achieving its current namesake and spelling.

Henrietta Township actively began to be populated when the Enumeration District north of Verndale and around Park Rapids was opened for settlement during the later part of the 1800s.

Most settlers arrived by wagon over a 50-mile logging trail from Verndale. Beginning in the late 1870s and early part of the 1880s, families such as the Martins, the Peinsky's, and the Krufts began to settle in Hubbard County and establish farms and homesteads around Lake Peysenske.

These homesteads were obtained without any cost to the settler under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862. The most notable of the settlers was Colonel William Martin and his wife Henrietta. Under his leadership, the first naming of our township was listed as Elbow Lake.

Elbow Lake (now Belle Taine) was at that time the largest lake in the Township and appeared to be a natural name for the new division within Hubbard County. However, it was quickly pointed out by sources in the Minnesota state government that the chosen name "Elbow Lake" was already being used in another part of the state.

In response, and in an effort to honor the Civil War service of Colonel Martin, the Township chose the name Martin. However, it was again rejected by the state because it was already in use. Finally the residents (and perhaps the Colonel himself) decided to name the Township after his wife, Henrietta.

The 1885 census records the township as Elbow Lake but by the time of the 1895 census it was listed as Henrietta; leading to the conclusion that the official name change occurred sometime in the period after 1885. Not surprisingly, during this same time frame the name of Elbow Lake was changed to Belle Taine.

Colonel Martin, or "the Colonel" as he was often referred to in historical documents, brought a rich history and background to the new Township. A native of Massachusetts, he ultimately settled in Dayton, Ohio where he met and married Henrietta.

During the Civil War, he joined the 93rd Ohio Regiment and served until he was wounded in the shoulder during combat operations. He eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel prior to being mustered out of the Union Army. He and his wife established a homestead somewhere near the "elbow area" of Belle Taine Lake in Henrietta Township.

Col Martin would eventually become a County Commissioner in Hubbard County and Post Master of the Post Office in Henrietta Township. He also helped found the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) chapter in Park Rapids.

Shortly after the Henrietta Post Office was merged with Park Rapids Post Office in the early 1890s, he reportedly left Minnesota and returned to Dayton, Ohio where both he and his wife lived out the remainder of their lives.

About the time the Colonel and his wife arrived, Mike Peinsky (referred to as Pesinske in 1886 and Peyneskie in 1895) also arrived in Minnesota and established a farm and homestead in sections 22 and 27 of Henrietta Township.

History records his farm as being just south of Lake Peysenske. Legal records also show he owned Lot 4 along County Road 11. His family was comprised of his wife Katherine and several children from her previous marriage.

They are reported to have had four additional children while farming in the area of Peysenske Lake. While no record exists for the naming of the lake, it can be assumed that the lake was named for his family (note: there was one other family by the same name, Julius Peinsky, perhaps a brother, but he lived further from the lake).

Census records, legal extracts and old histories show that he was born in Germany and that his name evolved from the original spelling to the current "Peysenske" while he resided in Hubbard County. Around this same timeframe, the Kruft family began to farm in Henrietta Township and records indicate their farm was in sections 23 of the Township (East of County Road #11).

Farming in the early years of Hubbard County reportedly centered on wheat. The prairie land was made up of rich grasslands that produced abundant wheat crops.

Oral histories of the area indicate that early crops were hauled by wagon on trails to Verndale where there was a railhead.

Wheat futures and wheat prices in the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s skyrocketed in support of demand from overseas. These prices continued to drive the wheat farming effort until world economic conditions reduced demand, causing a collapse of the wheat market shortly after World War I.

Interestingly, the same farming phenomenon that caused the "dust bowl" in the southwestern U.S. also plagued farmers in Minnesota. Fear of destroying the fertile thin topsoil in the area led to shallow farming methods that burned up nutrients in the soil and led to crop failure.

Fear of burning the wheat also contributed to avoidance of the use of fertilizers and farming methods at that time did not encourage crop rotation. Farms that depended on wheat production eventually began to fail. In time wheat disappeared as a preferred crop in Hubbard County and dairy, feed crops and current methods of farming began to become common in the early 20th Century.

The north shore of Lake Peysenske, due to its steep terrain, appears to have never been extensively farmed. County records and extracts indicate that most of the land north of the lake and along what is the current Highway 34 in Section 22 of Hubbard County (Lots 5, 6, and 7 plus the other Quarters north of these Lots) were granted to a Mr. Henry C. Waite by the State of New York.

Waite grew up in New York and attended Union College. After becoming a lawyer, he moved to Iowa and eventually to the St. Cloud area of the Minnesota territories.

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant Act of 1862, each state in the Union received a grant of public lands it could use for establishment of agricultural colleges and universities.

New York was successful at marketing the sale and timber rights of their extensive grants in raising money for a number of prestigious universities. It is unclear how Waite got the state of New York to grant him the Hubbard County lands but it could be speculated that in his capacity as a lawyer, he helped NY market its land holdings and was either granted the lands as its "agent" or perhaps was paid for his services by the state with some of its land.

Of note, Waite was a member of the Minnesota Constitutional Convention and served as a member of the Minnesota Senate. The earliest know entries from land Extracts indicate that Waite sold these lands to N. P. Clarke Company and they eventually owned much of the land north of Peysenske Lake by the mid 1870s.

N. P. Clarke was a large milling company out of Minneapolis that had extensive pine forestland holdings throughout the state of Minnesota and surrounding states. When they went into bankruptcy in May of 1895, it sent shock waves as far east as New York and the company failure was reported in the New York Times.

The land north of Lake Peysenske was sold as part of their bankruptcy in order to pay creditors. It can be assumed that the company had logged the land surrounding the lake for the red and white pine that was native to this area, but no official record or pictures of logging operations in this area exist to verify this assumption.

The area northeast of the lake (Dorset Corners area) appears to have been granted to the Northern Pacific Railroad as part of the Congressional 1864 Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant Law that granted land along the railroad right-of-ways to the railroad companies.

The companies then used this land for either its mineral/timber rights or sold it outright to private owners. The money generated from land sale was used for the construction cost of the railroad.

Provisions in this act also allowed for retention of some "granted lands" for public use by the state government. It appears from some of the property Extracts that part of the land near Dorset Corners was also granted to the Weyerhauser Corporation. Eventually much of this land south of Highway 34 and east of County Road #11 was deeded to Charles A. Smith and eventually became part of the Sheldon farm.

Current owners in this area indicate that the original access road to this area appears to have run from the Krufts - Peysenske farms and the east end of the lake (near County Road 11) on a northeast direction towards Elbow Lake (Lake Belle Taine).

It is interesting to see from a study of the extracts that three different laws, all signed by Abraham Lincoln, effected the distribution of land in and around Lake Peysenske (homestead, railroad grant, university grant). One has to wonder how the decision was made to subdivide the land between homestead, the railroad, the state of New York, and private developers such as Weyerhauser. Who made the divisions of the land and what was the basis for the division is unclear.

From the late 1800s to the middle of the 20th Century, the lands north of the lake passed through the hands of a series of different owners.

Records indicate that in the spring of 1945, a man by the name of George Simpson, purchased the logging rights to lots 6 and 7 (and the Quarters north of these Lots) for $1,100 dollars with the right to harvest the "jack pine" on these lots.

While the north shore was being deeded by sale to various owners, the south shore appears to have remained firmly in the hands of the Krufts and Peysenskes. To this day, descendants of the Krufts still own farm property East of County Road 11 and south of the lake. Peysenske's, on the other hand, sold their farm to Joe and Viona Henderson in July of 1944 and they began to farm the land after his discharge from the service in 1945.

The heirs to the land when Joe and Viona bought the property were listed as three surviving children of Mike Peysenske (William, Tillie, and Ester). Viona describes life in the post war years on the farm as austere.

The home was heated by wood and only had outdoor plumbing. The barn is said to have had a date of "1896" painted on it and was constructed with large wooden beams and wooden pegs.

The house had a basement built from large stones, an ice house on the north side of the home, and could be reached by a lonely dirt County Road 20 on which very few people lived. They had three wooden boats that they rented out to fishermen, eventually trading the heavy wood boat for lighter aluminum boats as the years passed.

Viona describes fishing in the lake at this period as a challenge to keep the bullheads off your line. Bullheads were caught in the lake as late as the early 1980s. Bullheads no longer populate the lake. Viona relates her biggest catch was an 11 pound Northern caught in 1981 (recorded at both Fullers and by the Enterprise). She, like most residents today, enjoyed the lake for its beauty and tranquility.

The Hendersons began to buy up the land north of the lake in the mid 1960s (including Lots 4, 5, 6, and 7). By 1968 they had built a new home on what is now Eagle View Dr. Viona still lives today in her summer home east of Peysenske along County Road 20.

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Joe continued to subdivide the land north of the lake and market it as lake property. Lakeshore development commenced in earnest in the 1970s. By the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century, the lake had a population of 26 residents, 17 full-time and 9 seasonal and also had 12 back-lot owners on Evening View drive. The southern part of the lake remains primarily farming to this day with only one seasonal resident near County Road 20 and three non-farming residents Southeast of County Road 11.

Development has not been easy on the lake. The construction of County Road 11 has caused considerable problems for the homeowners and for the lake water health due to the restriction of water flows from east to west. The small culvert installed on County Road 11 some time in the early 20th Century was replaced about the time the lake began to be developed but ultimately collapsed from the weight of the roadbed.

In addition, the culvert was subject to blockage by beaver. In an effort to provide a more permanent solution, the county installed a new cement culvert in 2005.

Unfortunately for the lake, a unilateral decision was made during construction (DNR and assistant county engineer) to raise the level of the culvert in order to retain water on the east side of the lake.

The newly formed Lake Association expressed concern to both the county and the DNR that it would restrict the water flow to the lake, create an unnatural impoundment of water, and divert the natural spring flow in this area (the only source of water for Lake Peysenske...as well as for other lakes like Long Lake).

Fear is that by impounding water on the east side of County Road 11, the spring flow would be forced back into HellKamp Creek watershed and towards the Crow Wing lakes.

The Lake Association concluded that the only viable option after appeals to the county were rejected was to pursue a lawsuit. The PLA suit was filed in 2006 and concluded in January of 2007. In ruling, the court considered the existing water in the east basin as the norm....and that the DNR had the authority to preserve this watershed by raising the culvert.

Unfortunately, the legal firm supporting PLA failed to establish that the water in the east basin did not exist prior to the failure of the collapsed County Road 11 culvert nor did they prove that impoundment of this water could alter the spring water flow in this area. Although there was a desire by some members of the Lake Association to pursue an appeal, there were enough members of the Board and association opposed to further pursuit of legal action to result in no appeal of the court decision by PLA.

At present (2011), the lake level seems to have stabilized and in fact has risen over the past few years due to a wet climate. Water flow however remains a concern.

Despite a new culvert with steel grid protection, the beaver continue to block the upper basin end of the culvert. Pressure has been applied by the PLA to both the county and the DNR to assist in keeping the culvert open. Support has been spotty at best.

The culvert is cleaned and maintained only by the concern of several lake residents. Only time will tell if the water flow restriction, combined with increased use of the water table by both agriculture and homeowners, will result in damage to the lake.

The future of Lake Peysenske rests in the hands of lake property owners. If owners practice good shoreland protection procedures and do not over-fish the lake, its future may be bright. If on the other hand, little attention is given to how the lake is used and what is allowed for lakeshore development, the lake could cease to be a viable watershed.

We owe a debit to the Creator of this environment and to the men and women who settled this area to do our best to protect this beautiful natural environmental lake.

John Clauer is a Lake Peysenske resident.

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